Elvis Costello has decided that time is up for his 1979 hit ‘Oliver’s Army’, with the rocker revealing that he won’t play it during live shows anymore.
Costello wrote the song at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. After travelling to the country during its conflict, he was hugely influenced by seeing British soldiers patrolling the streets of Belfast.
‘Oliver’s Army’ was a reference to the notorious English general Oliver Cromwell, who led the English forces as they subjugated Ireland in the 17th century. “Oliver’s army is here to stay / Oliver’s army are on their way,” Costello wryly cries in the song’s chorus.
One of his best political anthems, ‘Oliver’s Army’ also mentioned other conflicts in Hong Kong, Palestine, and South Africa. It was Costello’s most successful single in the U.K., spending three weeks at number two on the U.K. singles chart. In the decades since it’s been repeatedly hailed as one of his greatest songs and became a mainstay of his concert sets.
Yet it’s another line in the song that has prompted Costello to finally drop it from his live shows. ‘Oliver’s Army’ contains the lyrics “Only takes one itchy trigger/ One more widow, one less white n****.” It had remained largely uncensored on radio for 30 years but the rocker now believes its time is up.
“If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it,” Costello said in a new interview with The Telegraph. “That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army — it’s historically a fact — but people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”
He continued: “On the last tour, I wrote a new verse about censorship, but what’s the point of that? So I’ve decided I’m not going to play it. (Bleeping the word) is a mistake. They’re making it worse by bleeping it for sure. Because they’re highlighting it then. Just don’t play the record!”
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Costello added that he hoped radio stations would follow his lead by not playing the song anymore. “You know what. (Not playing it) would do me a favour. Because when I fall under a bus, they’ll play (Costello’s famous covers) ‘Sh’, ‘Good Year for the Roses’, and ‘Oliver’s Army’. I’ll die, and they will celebrate my death with two songs I didn’t write. What does that tell you?”
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